A Travellerspoint blog

University of Life

sunny 23 °C

Today was another amazing day but it a very different way versus yesterday. Today we saw the another side of the Cape Town and the South African story. Up to today our exposure to the area as evidenced by this blog was the plush beautiful European style city with its breathtaking scenery, great wine (I have yet to have a bad glass and I am averaging 4-5 glasses a day) and fantastic culinary experiences.

Our guide for the da, Andelai, picked us up and started his "presentation" on the history of the area. It was fascinating, enlightening and embarrassing at how little I knew about the history of this country. South Africa has an amazing history with some of the oldest human fossils in the world found within its borders. The country has 11 different official languages reflecting its pluralistic make-up. Cape Town was "settled" as Dutch colony as a stopping point for the ships on their way to India to trade for spices. The administration of Cape Town was taken over by the British (no conflict because the Dutch didn't want a fight in Europe so they mostly quietly let the British take over). In 1931 the British handed over administration (granted sovereignty) and in 1948 the National Party was elected to power.

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It was in 1948 that apartheid or legally institutionalized segregation occurred. While I knew of apartheid and Nelson Mandela I will fully admit to being fully ignorant on the details. First, apartheid means apart (that should have been obvious but wasn't). And it was not just the Blacks and Whites that were segregated but the Whites, Blacks, Coloureds, and the Cape Malay or Indians. Entire neighbourhoods were bulldozed and people were relocated to "Townships" by their ethnicity. While a horrible and sad part of the history we heard several times today not to feel sad for the people or pity the poverty but to look at the triumphs that occurred in the progress that has been made. Our guide in the Langa Township which still includes a significant shanty (10,000 people) town said "dwell too much on the past and the past will dwell on you." He was proud to show us the Hostels, whereby individuals could rent a room with a bed and share a common area for 50 Rand per month (5 dollars), the family Hostels (had individual kitchen, bathroom and bedroom all together the size of my living room) which rent for 350 Rand per month (70 dollars) and the "Bel Aire" homes (maybe 750 square feet) which are privately owned and sell for 36-65,000 dollars depending on style.

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After spending the morning reflecting on the past and seeing firsthand the progress and the work still be done we ventured back to the Cape Town waterfront and reflected on the stark differences in Cape Town neighbourhoods and circumstances. Following a splendid seafood lunch (I have eaten seafood exclusively since arriving) we boarded our ferry to Robben Island, home of Nelson Mandela for 18 years of his 27 years of imprisonment. While Robben Island has a long history (military outpost, home for lepers, insane asylum, criminal prison) it is most notable for being a political prison starting in 1964.

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The most profound part of the day was our guide through the maximum security area of the prison, a man who was a former prisoner, who had spent 5 years at Robben Island. I can't help but think what a remarkable person it takes to be stripped of their freedoms for a belief for 5 years only to return and show people the travesties of what occurred to him and not be bitter but in a strange way proud of what they accomplished. I think that attitude is what I took away from today the most. No one felt angry or bitter or held resentment, they are all just working towards a better tomorrow. There are undertones that the change is taking longer than people had hoped (and some in the shanties protest still against the government) but most seem proud of the progress that has been made.

A great day for some reflection and as Andelai so eloquently stated some time spent in the "University of Life".

Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 11:57 Archived in South Africa

I think we found heaven on earth - Cape Two Day 2

Animals, food and wine, what more is there?

sunny 28 °C

The first full day exploring in South Africa was spectacular. This country specializes in beautiful scenery, strange and wonderful animals, wine and exquisite culinary experiences, what more could someone want?

We started our day with an amazing (I am going to need a thesaurus or I am going to use that word a lot) breakfast at the hotel before meeting our guide, Deiter, for our days activities. (I had a quick stop at the concierge to book our equivalent of shark week, more after Saturday). Dieter kicked off our day with a drive along the breathtaking coast line through Hout Bay down to the Cape Peninsula. Turns out Cape Town is a massive area (2,444.97 square km to be exact) more akin to what we would think of as a small maritime province. Thus, the Cape Peninsula and the National Park are located in the "city". The peninsula is generally rocky (looks like the Canadian Tundra minus the permafrost) that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and is the furthest south-west point in Africa. At the Southern end is Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. It is at Cape of Good Hope that it is often said that the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean (however according to the official dudes this meeting occurs 200 km to the south-east).

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Dieter was objected to my 5,000 questions on the country, major industries in the region are fish and agricultural processing related to fish, textile production (in dire straits from competition from China, minimum wage here is 100 Rand (10 Rand = 1 Canadian dollar roughly) or 10 dollars). Tourism makes the top 5 for contributors to the GDP. South Africa is organized in municipalities and provinces similar to Canada but has the country has 3 capitals. Pretoria, executive capital, Bloemfontein, judicial capital and Cape Town is the legislative capital. Tax structure is similar to Canada with municipal taxes for water and sewage and income tax levied at the national level (the provinces are allocated revenue from the national government.) The area is an important scientific and technological center with the first ever human-to-human heart transplant performed in 1967. We touched on apartheid but since tomorrow we are spending the day at Robben Island (Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison on the island) I will leave the apartheid discussion until a later date.

Our journey on the Cape Peninsula was highlighted with the spotting on numerous wild animals (I did not expect to spot wildlife in the "city" so a pleasant surprise). The first sighting was a rare herd of the remaining Bontebok (extinct as wild animals and only survive in the park). The next encounter was with a couple Baboons (and some Baboon porn) which by the end of the day we had learned is not so rare. We also managed to spot Ostrich (both farmed and wild). After spending the morning exploring the park (and taking cheesy tourist photos) we headed to Simon's Town and stopped at the Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach. The only penguins on the continent of Africa and were once called the "Jackass Penguins" due to the sound they make (sounds like a donkey braying). The biggest surprise of the day was lunch. I knew we had a "special lunch" included in the itinerary what I didn't appreciate was I was about to experience some serious food porn.

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We were booked for a gourmet meal at Flagship, Chef Bruce Roberston's gourmet home. The restaurant seats a maximum of 16 people in the top floor of the breathtaking home with views to the ocean and includes 4 rooms on the lower level available for rent (a hell of a bed and breakfast). Sadly, Chef Bruce passed away suddenly (just days after being diagnosed with leukaemia) in early November. While I had received news from our tour operator of Chef Bruce's passing because I did not appreciate the intimate setting I was not fussed by the news. Turns out Chef Bruce was one of South Africa's most renowned chefs (I am embarrassed I had no idea). Fortunately for us, one week ago tomorrow, Chef Duncan Doherty has taken over the establishment and did not disappoint. A 4 hour, 5 course meal followed and it was something to behold (particularly for my parents who said several times the entire experience was outside their comfort zone but seem to embrace it nonetheless). Each course was paired with a South African wine and has secured a spot in the top 3 of best ever meals I have ever had. Oh and I can't forget to mention, while sitting at the table, sampling a 75% bitter chocolate terrine and a shiraz we looked out on the ocean and Dieter spotted a humpback whale. Seriously, the day could not get better.

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If I was not already smitten with my impression of this country I would say today it evolved to true love (it was a trifecta as the way to my heart includes animals, food and wine). We ended our day with a quick visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, an exquisite collection of indigenous plants to the region.

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We are now sitting in the Leopard Bar sipping a glass of South African cabernet sauvignon listening to some live music. Amazing day. I can't wait for our adventure to continue.

Until next time,
G^2 and 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 10:16 Archived in South Africa

Farewell London and Hello Cape Town

Day 4 & Day 5 have blended into one rather lengthy day. For reference today is December 17. Shockingly navigating our way through Heathrow last night (December 16) was easy. First you don't have to exit customs (similar to Canada and US) and security is amazingly fast. The amount of people behind security at Terminal 5 is astonishing. Here are some useless facts for you, Heathrow is the 3rd busiest airport in the world (behind Atlanta, every time I read that it shocks me and 2nd busiest is Beijing). Heathrow's 2 runways and airport occupy 1,227 hectares and more than 190,000 people a day move through its doors (72.3 mm a year). Crazy! We left with a slight delay and I did mange to sleep for the majority of the 11 hour flight to Cape Town (2 movies, "Blended" with Drew Barrymore, mindless and cute and "What I did on my Vacation", a British movie with the funniest little kids, highly entertaining.)

Upon arrival in Cape Town we were greeted by our local guide company, whisked through customs and transported on to our lovely accommodation, The Twelve Apostles, with a delightful view of the coast. Cape Town is the second most populous city in South Africa (behind Johannesburg). Famous for its breathtaking harbour and Table Mountain (which our hotel is located at the base of). First impressions, the city surpasses any picture you have seen or what you have heard. It is picturesque and indescribably beautiful (weather doesn't hurt, not a cloud in the sky and 28 degrees or so).

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After arriving at the hotel we grabbed a bite to eat at one of the three restaurants, before settling in to our rooms. Ger and I grabbed the free shuttle and zipped (30 minutes or so) to the Waterfront so I could source a hair salon (yes, yes, princess I know) and get my hair washed and dried (Ger says "thank you Karen"). I found one in the Waterfront Mall, a huge complex that felt just like you were at the Fashion Mall in Phoenix, certainly did not feel like we are on the other side of the world. It was nice opportunity to get out for a drive through the city and along the amazing coast but we won't be heading back to the mall anytime soon.

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We are back at the hotel sipping a cocktail and snacking on peanuts waiting for an acceptable time to eat again. All the restaurants at the hotel look amazing so I suspect our plans will include it and sleeping rather early since it feels like I am working on a 48 hour day. Tomorrow is a full day of exploring, driver and guide are meeting us at 8:30 so I am sure tomorrow's journal entry will be full of more specific Cape Town tidbits.

Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 08:44

Last Day London = Brilliant

sunny 5 °C

A 'Dog's Bollocks' final day in London. We ended yesterday with pint with an old friend and colleague from Enron at a 'typical' London pub (which was absolutely packed on a Monday night at 6 pm, I think the 3 Greenalls & a Hrap fit in nicely to the British lifestyle.) It was great seeing Mr. Redmond (thanks Facebook for keeping us in touch). We followed the pint with amazing 'Nosh' of fish n` chips at "Fishcotheque" recommended by Mr. Redmond, not fancy but really, really good.

Today started with a similar compromise (8 am is civilized) breakfast (Dad has taken to the full English breakfast (sausage, bacon, eggs and beans, high on the protein scale).) Activity One was a tube ride (checking all the boxes today, planes, trains and automobiles) to Kensington Palace, the royal residence set in Kensington Gardens. It has been a home to the Royals since the 17th century and including; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry (and Princess Diana until her death). Part of the Palace has been open to the public since 1899 (you can visit Queen Victoria's apartments, King William state rooms and some dresses worn by some famous chicks including; Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margret and Princess Diana).

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We followed the tour of Kensington Palace with a walk (a long, long walk) through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James Park onto Westminster Abbey. The 3 Greenalls had never done the Westminster Abbey audio tour so the Hrap graciously agreed to do it again and off we went for our second activity of the day. Westminster Abbey is absolutely 'Brilliant'. Beautiful and majestic. The history is mind boggling at one point I looked down and I was standing on Charles Darwin's tomb. In 1066 the first coronation took place in the Abbey and since that time all of the coronations have taken place in the Abbey (some very famous asses have sat in a pretty uncomfortable looking wood chair). The Abbey quickly dwarfed Kensington Palace as far as interest and in my opinion should be a 'must do' while in London.

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We followed our walking tour with one last scrumptious lunch (and maybe a pint) back to the hotel and onto Heathrow for our overnight flight to Cape Town. I am currently nursing a glass of red wine awaiting the call to board, hopefully followed by some sleep and tomorrow will awake and land in South Africa around 9:30 am.

Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 11:02 Archived in United Kingdom

Day Two - British Museum

overcast 8 °C

Well it turns out I was a little cocky on my "Oh, I have all the answers to adjusting to the new time zone," I spent a solid 3 hours from 12 to 3 am last night contemplating where I had gone wrong. We had finished the evening off with a great Italian carb fest followed by a walk along the Thames River past the London eye up to the Parliament Buildings and Big Ben before returning back to our peaceful abode. Given both Ger and I and my folks have been to London before (and hit the majority of the tourist highlights) we are aiming at keeping this visit chilled and relaxed.

Today started with a similar compromise as yesterday with an 8 am breakfast followed by a walk up to the British Museum. Each armed with a map and audio guide we split up to cover the area of the museum each wanted to explore. Learning from prior mistakes we set the meeting place and meeting time prior to scattering and agreed if one was "museum(ed) out" to meet on the hour until all four of us were ready to go. Worked like a charm (Mom wins for first one "museum(ed) out" followed with a close second for me (two hours is a lot for my attention span)).

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The museum is free with an encouraged 5 pound donation which seems cheap given it houses over 8 million artifacts from around the world. The museum was established 261 years on the site of the current museum building. The highlights for me were the Rosetta Stone and the large collection of sculptures from the Parthenon.

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The Rosetta Stone is inscribed with a decree that appears in three scripts, upper Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, middle Demotic script and lower Ancient Greek. It was at the time of its discovery the only written evidence that helps decipher the ancient hieroglyphs. It was discovered in 1799 by a Napoleonic solider and was transported to the UK and has been on display at the British Museum since 1802. Two other fragmentary copies of the same decree have been discovered as well. There have been requests to repatriate the stone to Egypt but there seems to be no plans in the works. The idea of returning the stone to its home seems honourable until you understand the dangers and risk involved with moving it and keeping it same in Egypt. My limited opinion is after having been to Egypt I think the Rosetta Stone is safest where it sits today.

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The second highlight for me and complete surprise (I had no idea they were in the British Museum) were the 'Elgin Marbles' or portions of the frieze, metopes and pedimental sculptures of the Parthenon. The Elgin Marbles include a large collection of inscriptions and architectural pieces that were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon and are spectacular. These relics with the Rosetta Stone are the source of most of the controversy around whether museums should be allowed to possess artifacts from other countries.

After spending 3 hours armed with my map and my audio guide my little brain was bursting with knowledge and my stomach rather empty. We sauntered back towards the hotel stopping for a fantastic panini in a little sandwich stop before rounding out our walkabout with a tour through Covent Garden and the Covent Garden Market. The area (or district) is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square is now a popular shopping site. Unfortunately since we are headed to South Africa next and our luggage is under strict weight restrictions there was no shopping for me.

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We are back in the room now to put our feet up (and maybe hit the gym) before heading out for a pint and dinner with an old friend I used to work with. So far London has been a perfect stop-over on our way to South Africa. Tomorrow we will leave London at 8 pm for a 11 hour overnight flight Capetown.

So until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls

Posted by imalazyj 07:20 Archived in United Kingdom

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